East Germans Tackle Education Reform
With textbooks and training from the West, teachers and students try a new approach to learning. BACK TO SCHOOL
LEIPZIG, EAST GERMANY
AS East German schools begin the academic year this week, they are entering a new era. No longer is the classroom to be an incubator that hatches obedient socialists. Rather, it will have to introduce a new world to students and encourage them to think for themselves.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Educators here say it could take up to five years before East German schools can accomplish this.
Although new textbooks are on the way (courtesy of West Germany), it has not been possible to replace all textbooks. Although many school principals have been removed, the teachers have not. Those who spouted Karl Marx will still be heading classes this fall.
``It's going to be another year of transition,'' says Gisela Kraft, the plucky principal of the Arthur Hoffmann School (Grades 1 through 10) here.
It is Ms. Kraft's job to introduce a new curriculum broadly outlined by the Education Ministry in East Berlin. Like other schools, Arthur Hoffmann will offer a new course on social studies, emphasize English, expand German literature to include prominent West German authors, and remove socialist dogma and fable from history and geography (see related story).
Shortly after East Germany's about-face last fall, many school districts here began working toward reform. By the end of the school year, the obligatory classes on ``citizen studies'' and ``civil defense'' were dropped from all schools. These courses covered Marxist-Leninist doctrine, party history, and military doctrine, and involved students in military exercises and drills.
In East Germany, only one state-owned publisher printed textbooks - flimsy paperbacks of newspaper quality. All students used the same books, which presented world events in terms of the socialist-imperialist conflict.
Through a 30 million deutsche mark ($19.4 million) program from Bonn, East German schools have been able to select new history, geography, and literature books from a variety of West German publishers. Five publishers are privately providing free English textbooks for fifth graders. (Previously, English was first offered in the seventh grade.) A week before classes were to start, however, the Arthur Hoffmann School had still not received its delivery of Western books.
But a far greater challenge than replacing textbooks, say educators here, is teachers and the student-teacher relationship.
``There were not a few [Communist Party] members who were teachers,'' says Hans-Joachim Erdmann, director of education for the district of Leipzig and himself a former party member. ``It will be quite difficult for some of them to cope with the new thinking.''
For months, seminars and teaching material have been flowing from West to East. Teachers have had the opportunity to take classes in history, religion, and teaching methods, among many topics.
But reeducation of teachers is not a matter of a few seminars.
``How are you going to teach the German classics if you don't know the Bible?'' Kraft asks.
J"urgen Handelmann, one of the history teachers at Arthur Hoffmann, says that before he could focus his attention on new material, ``I had a long personal fight with myself over what I had done ... that I had taught students incorrectly. I felt guilty about this.''